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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Start the Year Off Right: Ideas for Creating a Happy Classroom

My two favorite times of the academic year are the beginning and the ending, and one of the best things about working in education is that we get all summer to recharge. As I gear up to start a new school year, I've been thinking quite a bit about beginnings.

Dennis Potthoff, a colleague of mine, created the following list for teachers to refer to when beginning the new school year:

  • Before the year starts, get ideas for your curriculum by reviewing lessons from past terms.
  • Establish classroom norms, expectations, and procedures.
  • When the year starts, just jump right into the curriculum.
  • Motivate and excite students -- "sell" the class, the curriculum, and the teacher.
  • Work on relationship building (student-to-teacher and/or student-to-student).
  • Preassess your students to gauge their current knowledge, skills, or dispositions.

In the past, I've followed the second, third, and fourth ideas by discussing with the class my goals for the year, sharing my enthusiasm with the students to pique their interest, and jumping into the lessons and activities for the term.

As I share Potthoff's list with you now, I wonder how these ideas sound from the students' viewpoint. For example, would students prefer to work more on relationship building and the reviewing of previous class material? Would additional preassessments help me understand more about where my students stand in the learning process?

What do you think of these ideas? Which ideas would you use, and why? Do you have other ideas to add to this list? I'd like to hear from you!

Comments (92)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Holly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also teach in SC; 8th Grade SC History. I usually spend the first day going over the expectations, consequences, discipline code book, etc. Then I jump right into teaching. I start with geography, using group work, where the students make a salt dough map. That way, not only have I jumped right into the cirriculum, but I am also building trust in the classroom, as well as selling my kids on the class. I know sometimes the administrator's and guidance can be a little disorganized, but you have to think about the children in the room (I know you do!). Plus, I am always stressed about PACT, making sure I teach everything I'm supposed to and that the kids understand. I fear that if I start too late, then I will be doing coverage based teaching rather than teaching for understanding.

Sarah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think it is wise advice to jump right into the curriculum at the start of the year. It sets the tone for the rest of the year. I do think there is a place within the first days of school for lighter, less academically based activities, but most teachers take that way to far and the first few days of school are lost in a muddle of unimportant activities.

Myra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always loved the beginning of a school year. The new year holds the potential for a teacher to reach all sorts of new heights in education. But I feel that the student's point of view would be much more focused on the relationship building and the motivations aspect. Students want to be involved in the process of learning. Students love leaning when the teacher makes an effort to involve them in choosing what they learn about, the way in which they learn it, and making it meaningful and relevant in their life (Kottler, 2005). I agree with that line of thinking. Building the relationship,developing the communication and trust of the students, and making that connection will lay the foundation for a successful year.

Natalie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Beginning the year, I always have so many expectations of what I'd to see and do. I'm in my fifth year teaching, and have taught four different grades. I am now in another new grade level - fifth grade. For me, it is so important to read up on the curriculum throughout the summer. This year, wanting to set up a "democratic" feeling in my classroom, I had the students come up with the expectations and class rules. I was a little nervous, but it went great! We wrote up a class constitution that everyone felt good about, and it was signed by every student. This was a jump into our curriculum about American History. I do feel there is great power in "selling" the curriculum to students. A teacher's passion for a particular subject can make the difference. I do use pre-assessments in almost every subject, and so far they help to guide my instruction. I am interested in other ideas throughout the year to stay organized. This is an area where I could always use improvement!

Walden Student's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have participated in online grading at the middle school and high school level for two years, and I find it to be a very effective tool for parents and teachers to stay connected to the work of the students. I am a very organized and time-conscious teacher, so my grades are current and up-to-date. Some of my colleagues, on the other hand, are not current with their grades, and they encounter many problems. The online grading is a tool that is accessed by our special education teachers to evaluate their students' progress as well. I can't predict what problems you might encounter as an elementary teacher with alternative assessments. A letter home to parents explaining the grading process might help. You might consider giving grades to your observations to help make the issues clearer for parents.

Marilyn Olsen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our grade program lets us upload our data in seconds. Whenever I put in a set of scores I upload the grades. When students come in and make up work from an absence I upload that so the student can go home and show the progres to their parents online. I really appreciate those parents that make sure students are keeping up with their work. Students show up at recess or after school ready to work on the missing assignments and I did not even have to make a phone call or send an email.

Elainea-Walden Scholar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you that it's real easy to be organized at the beginning of the year, but it seems to slack off as the end of the year gets closer. I have found that I keep a small calendar that I use just for school. I make it a point to jot something down each day. It only takes a second. I put in important things to remember such as; conferences, minumum days, deadlines, and holidays. It helps me to stay organized and keeps me from getting overwhelmed. I am able to look at the calendar and see what is ahead for the upcoming week/weeks. I also put down student's home numbers so I have them on hand all the time. The calendar is compact enough to fit in my bag and I carry it with me everywhere. Hope this helps!

Marilyn Olsen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The parent response to online grades is enthusiastic. The students come in more often for help without any prompting on my part. I do not have to call or email parents about many of my students that are behind. This gives them the opportunity to be a part of the team that is educating their child.

Sandra Rhoat's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I never realized how important the teacher-student relationship was until I didn't have it. Your comments about building the relationship and then the learning comes after is so true. any teacher who thinks they are just going in to do their job and punch out without the human factor is sadly mistaken. Building relationships with the students is the foundation to either a good year or bad. My advice to all is to take the necessary time to build good solid relationships with your students and you will enjoy your year tremedously.

Ky teacher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a newer teacher, organization is one of my downfalls as well, How do teachers find time to stay organized through the year. I seem to start off in the right direction, at the beginning of the school year I feel refreshed and have the energy. As the school year progresses the piles just seem to begin and grow quickly.

How does a teacher do it all?

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